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City Desk: Nov. 25, 2015

Stadium Safety No Cause For Panic

Nov. 10 was the third time in the last few months that Santa Clara Police Chief Mike Sellars has been asked to give a report on stadium safety and alcohol control at NFL games. This subject has been in the spotlight since a vicious assault in September was caught on a mobile phone camera and posted to Facebook. SCPD arrested the alleged assailants within 48 hours of the attack.

Some Council Members wanted alcohol sales to be cut off at halftime instead of after the third quarter. Sellars responded that would only cause people to drink more earlier; becoming drunker and potentially more dangerous.

For some stadium critics and local news outlets, the attack was dramatic evidence of exceptional levels of drinking and violence in a crowd of about 70,000 people at a ballgame. In fact, other U.S. sports stadiums have seen as bad or worse. A Sept. 2014 Huffington Post article summarizes about a dozen incidents of NFL fan violence between 2011 and 2014, including a shooting at the University of Phoenix Stadium. Only one of the incidents took place at the 49ers’ former home, Candlestick Park.

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During the 2015 Major League Division Series a fan was seriously injured outside Dodgers Stadium, according to CBS Sports. In 2013, a Dodgers fan was fatally stabbed after a game in AT&T Stadium. Two years earlier another fan suffered severe brain damage after he was beaten up at the San Francisco stadium.

Since Levi’s Stadium opened in August 2014, 831,000 people have attended NFL games, and there were a total of 319 arrests. Another 889,000 attended non-NFL events, where there were 286 arrests. The top charge was public drunkenness, followed by assault.

Although NBC Bay Area has made much of the statistic that arrest rates are higher at Levi’s Stadium than Oakland’s O.Co Coliseum, the reason is SCPD’s zero tolerance policy, says Sellars.

International Soccer Takes the Prize – For Arrests

Which Levi’s Stadium event saw the highest number of arrests? The 2014 Mexico vs. Chile soccer match, where there were 45 arrests. In contrast, there were only two arrests at the Aug. 2014 Earthquakes-Sounders game.

Overseas, soccer “hooliganism” is legendary.

“Massive Riot Breaks Out Before Soccer Game,” wrote the UK’s Daily Caller on Oct. 22. The same day the UK Daily Mail Online wrote, “Tottenham supporters attacked by rival fans in violent clash.” Two days earlier the Liverpool Echo published this headline: “Teenage football hooligan smashed a glass into a man’s face as around 30 Everton fans clashed with Newcastle United and Hull FC fans outside a London pub.” On Oct. 19 the Coconuts Jakarta ran the headline, “714 arrested for football hooliganism during President’s Cup final in Senayan.”

The year’s low point in soccer hooliganism came less than two months into the year. “More Than Two Dozen Killed in Riot at Egyptian Soccer Match,” reported NPR on Feb. 8.

Is soccer hooliganism something that we’ll have to worry about in the U.S. in the future? The UK’s Daily Mail seems to think so.

In a story titled “Football Hooliganism Makes it to America,” the news outlet reported last August, “Two gangs of rival supporters were seen brawling in the streets of New Jersey Sunday afternoon ahead of a heated clash between the New York Red Bulls and newly-formed New York City Football Club. In scenes reminiscent of the blood-soaked battles between British hooligan gangs, shirtless men bellowed … at one another and lashed out with full trash bags and sandwich boards outside a supporters’ bar.”

When you’re at Levi’s Stadium, there are several ways to take action if you see violence or threats of violence, advises Levi’s Stadium’s website.

  • Contact stadium ushers, security personnel or law enforcement officer.
  • Text “SUPPORT” to 69050 with description of issue and location.
  • Call Guest Services Office at (408) 673-2100.
  • Use the LiveSafe Inc.’s mobile app for two-way text communication with public safety officials (www.livesafemobile.com/support/).

Mini-Dorm Deja Vu All Over Again

“Here we go again,” said Lou Faria of the Old Quad Owners Association at the Nov. 10 City Council meeting. He referred to the long-simmering dispute that exploded in 2014 about the conversion of century-old Victorians into student mini-dorms.

This time the issue was a project to renovate a partially finished basement and rebuild two first floor additions on an 1885 Queen Anne Victorian at 410 Lafayette Way. The house is listed in the City’s historic inventory. The current owners bought the house in 2012 for $680,000, according to the real estate website Trulia. The existing additions pre-date the City building code.

The renovations would bring the house up to current building code, restore architectural features, reinforce a deteriorating foundation, and “preserve it for another 100 years,” said architect Sal Caruso. The City has no building permits, service requests or correction notices on file for the property.

According to the application, the renovation would add roughly 700 square feet to the house, turning it from a three bedroom/one bath house into a five bedroom/four bath house. The house is 1,834 sf according to online real estate listings, but the project application includes the basement and describes the current space as 3,657 sf.

The renovation was approved by the City’s Historical & Landmarks Commission – although the Commission said it was on the “very narrow grounds” that the renovation didn’t affect the property’s appearance – and by the Architectural Review Committee (ARC) in July. Former Mayor Patricia Mahan appealed that approval.

The Planning Commission sustained the appeal; referring the project back to the ARC and directing the Planning Dept. staff to determine the legal status of the existing basement – which is currently occupied, according to project architect Sal Caruso – and report all current code violations to the ARC. They further provided direction to the applicant to eliminate one bedroom and one bathroom from the proposal and provide additional on-site parking. Caruso appealed the Planning Commission’s decision to the City Council.

“The Council has two ordinances under consideration: a historic preservation ordinance and a neighborhood protection ordinance,” said Mahan. Both of these will govern proposals such as you have before you. With the kind of design you see here it really will become a multi-tenant use … This house is owned by an LLC, which is a business … and is being held as a rental property … any suggestion that this is going to be used as single family home is disingenuous.”

“I don’t know this property at all, but it’s very obvious it’s going to be a multitenant property,” said City Council gadfly Deborah Bress. “What are they going to have, maid’s quarters? … We’re doing a lot of impact on neighbors and we have to stop it. And this is a good place to stop it.”

“This project has had a multitude of fair and public reviews,” said Caruso, who is known for his work renovating and preserving historical properties. “Some of the people [speaking against the project] here were at the ARC and said nothing. There’s a lot to be said about the influence on this project of others,” he said referring to a dust-up last summer about a similar renovation of a house on Park Ave. that was approved by the Planning Department, without Planning Commission or ARC approval. “It’s a basic property right. We’ve done what has been requested of us.”

Critics of the project have wrongly claimed that Caruso was part of the ownership group, Autumn LLC. According to the California Secretary of State’s webpage, the owners of Autumn LLC are San Jose residents Roger and Nora Moore.

In the end, the Council let stand the Planning Commission’s denial. For two years the Council has dallied with an ordinance prohibiting “boarding houses.” After the tortuous definitions of “household,” “living group,” and “bedroom” are laid out, and exceptions made for “protected classes,” group homes, and families, the proposed ordinance comes down, Mayor Jamie Matthews said, in February, to carving out a special class people, between 18 and 55, whom it’s permissible to discriminate against in housing.

The solution of creating a mini-dorm zoning category hasn’t been considered. That’s likely because it wouldn’t please the Old Quad owners – they want the mini-dorms shut down. And it wouldn’t please the mini-dorm owners who wouldn’t be able to operate high density rental housing for $1,000+ per room while only meeting building codes for single-family houses. Since “boarding houses” are not among the allowed property uses in Santa Clara, technically the mini-dorms are illegal. But the law hasn’t been enforced.

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